Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
There will be a total of 1,230 games during the regular season, and it seems likely there will be something important happening in each one of them. That’s how compelling and fascinating the sport of basketball has become.
Howard Beck @HowardBeck
Some 2018-19 schedule notes, per NBA:
* Back-to-backs reduced for 4th straight season, now at historic lows.
* Teams will avg 13.3 B2Bs this season, down from 14.4 last season, and down 31% since 2014-15 (19.3).
* Range of B2Bs per team is 12 to 15. Last year: 13 to 16.
Howard Beck @HowardBeck
More schedule notes, per NBA:
* 22 teams have fewer B2Bs this season.
* No 4 games/5 nights for second straight season.
* Elimination of 8 games in 12 days for first time.
* Instance of 5 games/7 days reduced 42% from last season (0.7 per team from 1.2 per team).
The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics will renew their historic rivalry in the first game of the year on Oct. 16.
That will be immediately followed by the latest chapter in the Russell Westbrook–Kevin Durant rivalry when the defending champion Golden State Warriors raise their title banner before hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The biggest takeaway from an offseason of major moves is, for the first time in five years, the likelihood of a new matchup in the NBA Finals seems high. The Warriors remain overwhelming favorites to win their fourth title in five years, per OddsShark, but another meeting with the Cleveland Cavaliers would be a surprise.
LeBron James is starting—potentially—the final chapter of his career, leaving the Cavs to join the Los Angeles Lakers on a four-year deal. The four-time NBA MVP will be looking to end the franchise’s five-year playoff drought.
James will get his first chance to show off his Lakers team on Oct. 18 when they hit the road for a matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers. His individual rivalry with the Warriors will once again be a showcase for the NBA’s Christmas Day schedule:
12pm/et: @Bucks/@nyknicks (ESPN)
3pm/et: @okcthunder/@HoustonRockets (ABC)
5:30pm/et: @sixers/@celtics (ABC)
8pm/et: @Lakers/@warriors (ABC/ESPN)
10:30pm/et: @trailblazers/@utahjazz (ESPN) https://t.co/yILe6tOVgg
While James’ departure from Cleveland was much more amicable this time around, it will still be interesting to see what kind of a reception he receives from Cavs fans. Their first opportunity to greet him will come on Nov. 21.
One divorce that wasn’t civil saw Kawhi Leonard get dealt by the San Antonio Spurs to the Toronto Raptors.
Following rumblings of a strained relationship between the two sides in January, things came to a head three months later.
“The relationship between [Leonard] and the Spurs is broken, and it’s got to be put back together again before the Spurs are going to make that kind of a commitment to a player,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on SportsCenter in April (h/t Ananth Pandian of 247Sports). “And that’s going to take a lot of talking, communication and some compromise here in the next few months before the Spurs can make that offer.”
The Spurs were unable to repair that relationship, found an offer to their liking and will try to operate without Leonard, who was one of the NBA’s best players when he was healthy.
Leonard will make his return to San Antonio when the Toronto Raptors visit the AT&T Center on January 3.
After winning a franchise-record 59 games last season, the Raptors were swept out of the playoffs in the second round by Cleveland. The addition of Leonard was Toronto moving all of its chips to the center of the table, knowing he could leave as a free agent in the offseason.
There was collateral damage in that trade, with DeRozan clearly unhappy about being shipped out of Toronto.
Faizal Khamisa @SNFaizalKhamisa
DeMar Derozan asked about his current relation with Raptors President Masai Ujiri.
“No reason to have a relationship.” https://t.co/yBEyVN4Hcz
DeRozan spent the first nine years of his career with the Raptors. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in games played (675) and total points (13,296). His first chance to play in front of Toronto fans as a member of the Spurs will come on Feb. 22.
Another club coming off a historic regular season is the Houston Rockets, who led all teams with 65 wins before falling to the Warriors in seven games in the Western Conference Finals.
If Paul didn’t injure his hamstring during that series against the Warriors, perhaps the Rockets start this season as defending NBA champions. This version of the Rockets will get their first chance to take down Golden State on Nov. 15.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, Anthony’s old team, are hoping for improved results in the second year of the Russell Westbrook-Paul George partnership. They added Dennis Schroder to their backcourt mix in a deal with the Atlanta Hawks for Anthony. They are also getting back Andre Roberson after an Achilles injury limited him to 39 games last season.
Despite having two superstars in Westbrook and George, the Thunder didn’t join the ranks of the Western Conference elites last season. They will look to show things will be different in 2018-19 when they take on the Warriors in their first game of the season and Rockets on Nov. 8.
Even though the bulk of the NBA drama seems to lie in the Western Conference, there may not be a more interesting division race than the one in the Atlantic Division.
It was the only division in the NBA to feature three teams that won at least 50 games. The Raptors came out on top and added Leonard. The Boston Celtics won 55 games, despite only having Gordon Hayward on the court for five minutes and losing Kyrie Irving for the final 34 games, including the playoffs.
The Philadelphia 76ers missed out on adding James and Leonard, but their core of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons JJ Redick and Dario Saric is among the best in the NBA. There’s also this nugget about 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz:
Jordan Schultz @Schultz_Report
Palpable buzz is building around #76ers guard Markelle Fultz. One league source privy to Fultz’s workouts w/famed hoops trained Drew Hanlen tells me Fultz’s jumper is rebuilt and that a result, the 20-year-old guard is a completely different, vastly improved player.
Sixers management didn’t want to include Fultz in trade talks with the Spurs for Leonard. If his offseason adjustments pay off during games, a team that won 52 games last season will have added a budding star for nothing.
With the Raptors, Celtics and 76ers likely battling for supremacy in the Atlantic Division, all 12 of their games will be must-see television.
There’s also plenty of intrigue around this year’s crop of first-year players. Trae Young went from being the biggest star in college basketball with Oklahoma to the most scrutinized player during the NBA Summer League after going to the Atlanta Hawks in a draft-day deal with the Dallas Mavericks.
After a difficult start to the summer season, Young did show signs of improvement:
No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton will be a featured player for an exciting young Suns team that also features Devin Booker, TJ Warren and Josh Jackson. That group will take the court for the first time on Oct. 17.
Even with all of the offseason moves, the road to an NBA title still goes through Golden State until someone knocks the two-time defending champions off.